Positive Covid tests as reported by Public Health England declined again yesterday to 29,622 after two days of going up a bit. ONS data, also out yesterday, confirmed that infections have peaked and declined in the past 10 days among people over 16 – though, unexpectedly, also showed a surge among the under-16s that appears not to have been picked up by PHE. Is this because parents have stopped testing their children and reporting it to PHE now school is out and holidays are approaching? Some have suggested the ONS is picking up ‘cold positives’ from old infections. Either way, all eyes are on the data to see what will happen next.
But should they be? After all, what now are we waiting for? All the vulnerable and more are vaccinated, and the vaccines appear to give a decent enough protection from serious disease and death. Or even if they don’t, there’s nothing more that can be done, so we might as well go back to normal anyway and the virus will do whatever it does, and the vaccines will do whatever they do.
With all our delaying of lifting restrictions – planning to take an indefensible four months over it and in the event taking five, and then doing it half-heartedly, leaving strongly-worded guidance in place – it’s hard to believe that Florida ended all statewide restrictions in autumn 2020 and Texas and some other states did so in spring 2021. They saw no new surge after the winter – not until Delta arrived in the last few weeks, suggesting that it’s not lifting restrictions that causes surges (and thus it wasn’t imposing them that ended them) but new variants, presumably due to their partial immune evasion temporarily disrupting herd immunity.
But even so, Delta has shown that it’s nothing much to be afraid of, with the U.K.’s infection rate dropping following the lifting of restrictions on July 19th, having peaked by specimen date on July 15th at 60,665 positive tests. Scotland peaked over two weeks earlier at the end of June.
What more, then, is the Government waiting for? The only reason we were given for still being cautious was uncertainty over the threat from Delta, with Government advisers issuing warnings in the run-up to ‘Freedom Day’ of massive waves of infections and hospitalisations. We now know that this didn’t happen. Even if reported infections don’t continue to drop like they have in the last fortnight, we know that the threat was greatly overblown and the doomy models (which have always exaggerated the risk, as Sweden and South Dakota attest) can’t be trusted.
As Conservative MP Sir Iain Duncan Smith told the Telegraph yesterday:
The Government is constantly being assailed by scientists whose forecasts seem to be around fulfilling a purpose, keeping us in lockdown. We are in a state of unreality, it’s as though we don’t need an economy, we don’t need to meet each other, we don’t need to do anything that makes life worthwhile. But we do. … We have been driven into a vortex led by these incredible forecasts that never seem to be right.
One unnamed senior minister on Wednesday had the right idea, reportedly saying the Covid crisis was “all over bar the shouting”. He or she was quickly slapped down by Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jonathan Van-Tam, who insisted: “This is not ‘all over bar the shouting’. I hope the worst is behind us, but I think it’s quite possible we will have one or two bumpy periods in the autumn and winter.”
But why isn’t it over? Now that we have developed our vaccines and delivered them to the vulnerable, reducing (we hope) their risk of death, what more are we waiting for? What now is to be gained from perpetuating the state of emergency? That the Deputy CMO thinks it “quite possible” the winter will be “bumpy” is no reason at all to continue doing anything that we didn’t do in 2019. What winter isn’t bumpy?
Most of the legal restrictions have now gone, thank goodness, though the threat that they may return remains and we are constantly reminded by our leaders that the pandemic is not over. Mass testing is still very much with us, along with its correlate, self-isolation, as is intrusive guidance on masks and distancing, travel restrictions, and of course the ever-growing threat of vaccine passports a.k.a. medical apartheid. But why? Now that the vaccine programme is delivered to the vulnerable and the fear around the Delta variant has been dispelled by events, what further justification can there be for continuing the state of emergency? Why are we still testing everyone all the time?
The CDC in America recently put out a notice that they will be discontinuing the Covid-only PCR test later in the year, encouraging labs to move to a test that can detect both Covid and flu. Some people mistakenly took this as a tacit admission that the current test cannot distinguish flu and Covid, but the true disturbing implication is that it means the U.S. authorities appear to be planning to carry on with mass testing, self-isolation and the rest of it for some time to come, and start doing it for flu as well.
The Government here in the U.K. has shown no sign of winding down its testing capabilities in preparation for a return to normal. Seven large lighthouse labs have been built in the last 16 months, and the NHS, which appears to be intimately involved with them, seems fully committed to ongoing mass testing. I’m told by someone in the know that mass testing for Covid was the first mass screening programme that bypassed evaluation by the National Screening Committee, and that there will be eagerness within the medical establishment for this to set a precedent that mass screening for flu and other diseases can follow.
With legal restrictions lifted, it is now primarily mass testing, vaccine passports and overbearing ‘guidance’ that stand between us and normality. As the Delta wave subsides (possibly after another ripple, who knows) and with it any remaining sense in which politicians can claim we are in an unprecedented or emergency situation, our efforts must be focused on ending these remaining measures and insisting that life return to normal as soon as possible.